Somewhere in the middle of his multiple cancer battles — between doctors diagnosing him with in-stage renal failure, the removal of diseased organs and a kidney transplant — Michael Doyle experienced what he calls a "foxhole moment."
He promised God he would devote his energies to helping families.
Through hours of volunteer work, however, Doyle grew disenchanted with efforts that didn't go beyond providing food and clothes. He wanted to champion a movement that would create transformational relationships for those in need.
In Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC.), Doyle and his wife Ann found the purposeful effort they sought. They created a Tampa affiliate of the national organization and despite Michael's challenges, they've helped create a clearing house that can be a resource for churches and volunteers looking to help the needy.
Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper recently spoke to Michael and Ann about the efforts of Love INC., why Michael perseveres despite his multiple cancer battles and the importance of creating relationships with those in need.
So Love INC. encourages churches to help tackle the problem of poverty. I thought churches would have already been doing that.
Ann: People in churches want to do it, they don't know necessarily how to effectively do it. That's the purpose of Love INC., to mobilize in an effective way, across denominations, and help individual members of the church feel comfortable in getting involved in the life of a poor person and building a relationship with them. Not so much giving money and stuff to them.
Mike: Churches do not talk, do not communicate. The idea that cradle Catholic Mike Doyle would be serving alongside Methodists with open arms and working on a housing project with them defies logic. There are silos. Our pope, our new bishop, wants interdenominational, collective services. The other piece is when you talk to homeless experts ... the missing component are faith communities and their resources. They have abundant resources. The riddle is how do you utilize that. Love INC. provides that model.
Has it been a challenge to get different denominations together?
Mike: It was. We conducted information sessions and people would say, "How does this work?" (Philanthropist) Liz Kennedy said this has to be operational before you understand it. So a seed we planted three years ago with St. Lawrence (Catholic Church) is now bearing fruit and we're bringing them online. Same with St. John's Episcopal in South Tampa.
We're all very familiar with Matthew 25. Most people stop at feed the hungry, clothe the naked. What's missing is Christ was in a relationship with the people he served. The biggest fear of a volunteer wanting to plug in is you have to be in a relationship with the people you serve. That is not for the faint of heart, for a lot of folks, so we help them put a toe in the water.
Ann: It's about creating the opportunities for people to be involved. We had the opportunity last year to go to Idaho, just outside of Boise, and they're a fully operational Love INC., and they've been in operation for 20 years. It has 125 churches involved and it has 400 or more monthly volunteers.
They do everything from a thrift store to relational things. They get volunteers willing to stay with a family for a year, teaching them financial management and life skills. That's our goal, but right now we're still in the mobilization of churches and getting people to volunteer to be in a relationship with people who are needy.
Michael, you've had a number of surgeries, transplants and other challenges due to your cancer battles. You know, if you're battling cancer, you don't have to help others. You realize that, right? It is a time in life you can be selfish.
Mike: We didn't make a legal contract, we made something higher than that. We made a covenant. So that trumps any medical issues.
Ann: It keeps him busy (chuckles). He took the time, we took the healing and people have been patient with us, with the process. Luckily, national understood and prayed over him.
Is your biggest challenge getting different churches to pull together?
Ann: Yes, it's getting people to understand how it's different. Churches already focus on needs. With Love INC, the model is focused on the person and what their God-given potential is. A lot of peole don't understand that difference. Let me tell you about the founding principals: it's called redemptive compassion. It's teaching that we, as Christians, are to form respectful relationships with the people that we understand to have value. We require mutual participation and contribution. So it's not a one-sided, "You give me something."
We work with you in the relationship so you have to contribute to the outcome as well. And, we have to discern what God's response would be in these situations. So prayer is central to what we do. The last is Love INC is designed to transform not only the churches, the individuals who volunteer, the community and the people that seek assistance. It's a transformational ministry, and that's the most difficult aspect for people to envision because they're in the transactional phase of giving right now. We have to teach that difference.
You also think with the training you have, Love Inc. understands how to discern between those who are truly in need and those choosing a lifestyle of need.
Mike: (Some churches) have no clue what to do with a mom and two kids who show up on their doorstep at 4 o'clock on a Friday. We off-load that, but sometimes you need something dramatic to drive that home. One church gave a mom a check for $500 for personal needs and then another $5,000 for rent. You never, ever give money to the recipient. You always pay vendors directly. She took $2,000 of that and paid bills and then came back and said I need more money for rent. At that time, the entire staff was trying to figure out what to do and were sensitive to her needs. Within a minute, I said, "Stop. You're getting scammed." Once you have something like that, you start getting their attention.
What's the next step for Love INC?
Ann: Love INC is supposed to be a clearing house, to connect our network of resources and volunteers to the people who are referred to us. The next step, through that, is to figure out the gap in services and eventually we'll try to get member churches to address some of those gaps or Love INC will start its own services related to that gap ministry.
Why is it so important to have a relationship with those you help?
Mike: We have a call to rescue, redeem and restore to the full community, the least, the lost and the last. That requires a relationship. What's missing today is someone willing to walk up to a homeless person, introduce themselves and say, "Hi, my name is Mike. What's your name? How's it going?" You have to do that.
Ann: You can't love somebody if you're not in a relationship.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Ernest Hooper at email@example.com. Follow him @hoop4you.